I was so overprepared last time with stuff I never needed. I had a ton of nursing bras and shirts and tanks and sleep bras, multiple kinds of nipple cream, multiple kinds of breast pads, a manual pump, and an electric pump. Here is what I found, for what it's worth:
- nursing bras are good IF they offer the kind of support that a regular bra does. I never found one that did. I have one that comes pretty close, but for the most part, they aren't much better than sleep bras. Eventually I got tired of all my nursing bras and started using regular bras and just pulling my breast over or under the cup for nursing. Kind of a pain when you are trying to stuff it back in, but the choice for me was a little inconvenience after nursing or using a bra that looks like I'm not wearing a bra. I am currently a 40DDD/40E, so wearing an ineffective bra wasn't really an option. I think they are probably the most useful in the first six months or so when you are out in public and your baby wants to nurse all the time so the inconvenience factor overcomes the frump factor.
- nursing clothes/tanks are a gigantic waste of money. I have a ton and I tried to use them a few times, but here were the major problems - 1. they were frumpy and never looked quite right; 2. the opening for your breast is too small and it's hard for the baby to latch on; 3. the opening for your breast is too big, and you may as well have just lifted your shirt. After I figured that out, I started just wearing either the belly band I wore at the beginning of my pregnancy or a cami underneath my clothes. I would then simply lift my shirt and the only thing that is exposed is a little bit of breast and the baby pretty much covers that up.
- sleep bras might be great for some people but for me, I would rather sleep braless. I can wear a snug cami, but the sleep bras pretty much pull away so easily that you may as well be sleeping braless - waste of money for me anyway.
- The only kind of nipple cream I ever used was pure lanolin. I have other stuff, but that was the most effective and I felt comfortable nursing shortly after applying it. Added bonus was that it was a miracle for my painfully chapped lips.
- I leaked a bit, but I would usually just hold something over the breast that wasn't being used during letdown. That cut down on leakage a lot. I slept on a towel for the first few months, both for me, and because DD was a HUGE spitter, so without the towel I'd be changing sheets 5x a day. When I went back to work I did need to wear breast pads for the first few months bc whenever I thought of my daughter it would trigger a letdown. Crazy! I used both cloth pads and disposable pads and disposable were way more convenient, so I would mostly use those at work and the cloth at home or when I had access to a wetbag. I never used lilypads bc I've heard some not great things about what can happen if you use them too long.
- I treasure BOTH of my pumps and will be getting my money's worth out of both of them. I have a Medela PIS double electric for when I go back to work (absolutely essential to have a double electric if you work outside of your home and wish to pump multiple times per day) and a manual Medela Harmony single pump for when I am in the car, or when I am home and just need to pump off one breast, don't want the hassle of hooking up the electric pump, etc. During maternity leave I will probably start to build a small stockpile, but the real pumping happens when I go back to work. I was blessed with a great supply (although it was an oversupply at first) so I always made a bit more than DD drank in one day, so we always had plenty. I was going to donate it but then we lost power for 3 days and everything thawed :~(.
- Other very helpful stuff - nursing books YES, nursing pillow - not essential, but definitely helpful, phone number for a quality LC
Here's something else no one has discussed yet - many many first time mothers have flat nipples. It's not unusual, and it in no way will hinder nursing if you handle it appropriately. Here are two great products to think about having on hand in case this is an issue for you:
The Advent Nipplette
Both are safe and effective ways to encourage your nipples to come out. Until they do, however, your baby can still latch on - babies frequently latch onto arms or pretty much anything that you put in front of them. Last time I checked, we don't have nipples on our arms. Baby latching on is actually what will make your nipples permanently stick out. It might be a bit harder for baby to latch onto a flat nipple because there isn't anything to strongly stimulate the sucking impulse, but it can still be done.
DO NOT BE SUCKED INTO NIPPLE SHIELDS!!!!!!!! There are some times that nipple shields can be amazing tools - if your child absolutely refuses to latch without one, you may have no choice. Like all medical interventions, there is a time and a place, and I am NOT saying that you should never use one. However, do NOT let anyone tell you that you need a nipple shield simply because you have flat nipples. I had this problem with DD1 and it was really scary because I didn't think I would ever be able to wean her off of them.
For those of you who don't know what they are, basically, it's a piece of plastic that goes over your breast and nipple and has a nipple that resembles a bottle nipple at the end. Baby latches on and gets milk through the hole at the end of the plastic nipple. They create huge problems in the breastfeeding relationship because babies frequently don't get enough milk this way and so they can have weight gain issues and mom can have a reduced supply, leading to supplementing with formula, which in turn reduces supply further. The other issue is that it can and does lead to "nipple confusion." What nipple confusion REALLY is, is a baby developing a preference for an easy comfortable suck - this can happen with a nipple shield or a bottle because both are easier to latch on to than a natural nipple, and both can cause milk to come out with less work. Babies can develop a preference for easy milk that makes it very difficult to get them on to the natural nipple. Again, this creates a snowball effect - supplementing with formula in a bottle will decrease your supply (because your body thinks baby doesn't need as much) which then makes baby less likely to want to nurse if there isn't as much milk coming from you.
I never knew these risks and I wish I had because it would have saved me a lot of heartache if I had. The good news is that we WERE able to wean off the nipple shields, DD did NOT have any weight gain issues, I did NOT have any supply issues, and DD still dry nurses several times per day at 26 months. So if you need a nipple shield, you can definitely be ok, but don't put yourself through it if you don't have to.